Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Why School Shootings Happen So Often in Affluent Cultures?

Why does school shooting happen? This unpredictable and senseless violence leaves a community wrecked and soul-searching in abysmal guilt. Politicians talk about gun-control, preventive measures and mental health issues for some time and then everything becomes business as usual with no answers or remedies.

Yet another school massacre at Kauhajoki in Finland, leaves a nation shell-shocked with grief.

Another round of analysis and questioning “Why again?” is followed by fault-finding, blame-shifting and political promises – all just before the upcoming communal elections.

Difference Between School Shooting and School Massacre

Photo source:

School shootings are isolated incidents of someone killing one or more persons with a firearm or a death resulting from a gang fight. 

School massacres, are mass killing rampages by usually lone gunmen like the one in Kauhajoki. 

Many people remember the tragedies at Columbine High, Virginia Tech and think that such rampages only happen in the USA. But these massacres happen in other wealthy and stable democracies too. 

The statistics of school shootings and massacres are horrendous and gruesome reading. Here is a site devoted to the Timeline of school shootings and massacres all over the world.

Motives of School Shooters

The Copycat Effect (term coined by the author of the book, Loreen Coleman), is said to be very crucial for the planning and motives of gunmen. Martin Bryant, the gunman responsible for the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Australia had studied and copied Thomas Hamilton, who massacred innocent children at Dunblane. 

Similarly, newspaper reports have hinted that Matti Saari, the killer of Kauhajoki copied Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the killer at Jokela a few months earlier. 

Photo source:

Martin Bryant had been diagnosed as mentally retarded with a low IQ and serious disorders. He had told neighbours "I'll do something that will make everyone remember me".

The catalysts for the school-shootings can be traced to a number of factors. Here is a screenshot from Jessie Klein's The Bully Society, a comprehensive study describing the school-shooting situation in USA.

What Can Society Do To Stop School Shootings

What does a society do to stop these killing rampages? Does it mean that we should go on a spree of arming schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras and armed guards? 

The butchering at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva religious school massacre in Israel was cut shot by one student, Yitzhak Dadon. He shot the gunman shooting with an AK-47 with his own pistol.
Photo source:

Do societies go on a witch hunt by profiling people who can and who cannot kill as in "The Classroom Avenger," James P. McGee and Caren R. DeBernardo, Forensic Examiner (May-June, 1999)?

The U.S. secret service has researched all the US school shootings and massacres as well as the foreign ones. They warn against any kind of student profiling for would-be killers. This kind of ‘profile’ would fit too many students and miss the real killers. Profiling is often misleading as a preventive measure, as we might be lulled into a false sense of security as some 'potential' types have been identified and they are being watched.

  • In the Concordia University massacre it was a dismissed assistant professor. 
  • Some American school massacre gunmen lived with both parents in "an ideal, All-American family." 
  • Others came from broken homes, or lived in foster homes. Significantly, a few were loners, but most had close friends. 
  • Some of them had been teased at school but most of them had not. 
  • The killer at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada separated his victims and killed only women (fourteen of them).

Can a society like Finland, which has the third highest number of guns in the world after USA and Yemen, decide to ban handguns? 

Gun controls were intensified in Scotland after Dunblane. but Guns haven’t been banned in USA after repeated school massacres and neither in Yemen after the Sanaa massacre in 1997. The Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, an extremely powerful weapon, often called a civilian version of the US Army M-16 assault rifle, was outlawed in 1994. But in 2004, US Congress gave in to the political clout of the gun-rights lobby and did not renew the ban. So a potent weapon of mass-destruction remains freely available for school shooters in USA.

Why Some People Become School Shooters?

The outcry in Finland after the Jokela massacre has been to increase the number of school psychologists. Many school killers had regular consultations with psychologists, but it didn’t stop them. In countries like India, Bolivia or Thailand with no school psychologists, school massacres fortunately haven’t happened.

Could the potential killer’s soul get poisoned by an inability to measure up to the demands of a society too bent upon achieving more and more? 

Can we blame a society for becoming too performance oriented, too materialistic so that human values take the back seat? 

Can we say that the people in a certain country are too busy and have become cold?

The social system in rich countries takes care of people and responds to situations. But systems function with cold efficiency and can never have human warmth. Here are some disturbing questions that emerge after every such tragedy, but are soon overlooked as they become 'uncomfortable' questions.
  • Can more of the 'system' reach out and touch the lost ones? 
  • Can a professional shrink reach lonely children if the parents are too busy chasing results in their jobs? 
  • Does it help if doctors prescribe stimulants for depressed people with no reason to live and let live?

Could the inner recesses of a potential killer become devoid of human warmth, dignity and respect so that the only way to escape that persistent laceration of self-hatred is to feel oneself superior by using weapons? 

Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland put the killer's picture on the front page in place of the usual ads. In 25 years the only other time news replaced ads was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you murder 10 innocent people, the leading paper of the land recognizes you as a major celebrity. This is media-sponsored pandering to egoism at its worst.
When religious myths do not speak to us any more, when social structures like marriage and family start to crumble, what else can fill in the vacuum of values but a mythology of hatred and violence?

Should we recognize that in spite of all the progress and riches, in many countries, it is the end of living and the beginning of survival for many? Neither a Mink coat nor the flame from the muzzle of a gun can save you from the cold embrace of death when your heart is frozen. You need care and love from people to remain a warm human being. Since when do systems give that!

Rather than running after PISA rankings to measure school efficiency, should schools teach students how to live good lives?

Should richer countries seriously start to measure success and prosperity by Gross National Happiness like in Bhutan? The Fourth International Conference on Gross National Happiness will be held 24-26 November 2008 in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Further reading: Klein, Jessie, (2012) The Bully Society: school shootings and the crisis of bullying in America’s schools, New York, NY: NYU Press, http//

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Can Liberal Women Talk About Their Own Abortions!

Can US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin become the Bête noire of the liberal press or will she vanish into the wannabe garbage-bin of history? Considering the manner of generating controversy without any substance behind the talk, the latter outcome is most likely.
How do people from other cultures see her?

Governor Palin’s statements like “The Iraq war is a task from God” and that she wouldn’t hesitate to start a war even with Russia are very belligerent words. 

For people in cultures outside the USA, this type of talk is standard George Bush rhetoric. Hot-headed political leaders like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and President Hugo Chávez delight us regularly with phrases which provoke animated discussions. However, Sarah Palin’s statements about the Iraq war being a task from God, which she made to Charles Gibson of ABC News should be understood within the vote-catching context of election politics.

Sarah Palin's Anti Abortion Stand

But, what has annoyed many liberal feminist women in Western countries is Sarah Palin’s vehement anti-abortion stand. Religious fundamentalists and extreme right-wing republican women in the USA and tens of millions of people in other cultures may not feel that this is a negotiable issue.
Photo by: Rachel Montiel

Abortion is a Taboo Topic in Most Cultures

In all cultures, abortion is a strange topic, almost ghost-like. Even in the most liberal countries like Finland in Scandinavia, abortion is a slippery subject. Jan-Erik Andelin of the Finnish-Swedish daily Hufvudstadbladet in Finland writes that women can discuss their sex-lives or lack of it, personal accounts of severe depressions and financial mishaps, but “Abortion is a taboo in 2008”.

Photo source:

You can talk about abortion as a phenomenon, a statistic, a right, a political issue, but you can never talk about your own abortion even among women. No one will speak out aloud why she herself had to resort to abortion by explaining that she was 15, alone, and destitute. Most likely, even among militant feminists, only an embarrassed silence will follow if anyone present brings her personal case of abortion to the discussion.

Photo source:

What are the reasons for this embarrassment? Is abortion then after all, a feminist issue? Women in many parts of the world consider the right to decide what they should do with their own bodies, as sacred, worth fighting for. 

Not having the right to choose to do an abortion means letting someone else’s interest, in this case her own child’s, override the woman’s rights of bodily self-determination.

Photo source:

Is it that in a liberal society you are supposed to take care of your own contraception and if it fails, it is your own fault? 

Does abortion become a performance issue in the end? In earlier days, when a woman was supposed to give birth to many children and rear them into decent members of society, abortions were seen as eroding the base of functionality in a society. 

Photo source:

Is the shame of the unemployed the same as that of the mother who had chosen abortion?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Two Languages Two Minds! Cultural Frame Switching!

Do you behave differently in different surroundings, especially when you are speaking in different languages?

Are you aware of CFS or cultural frame switching?

What is Cultural Frame Switching?

Cultural frame switching refers to the phenomenon where bicultural individuals shift values and attributions in the presence of culture-relevant stimuli.

I notice that I am a very different person while I speak Italian compared to when I converse in Finnish. Many bilingual individuals speak about their similar experiences with speaking different languages. For example, in one context they are more extravert and open, while they are more subdued and conscientious in another. They say that they feel like a different person depending on which language they are speaking. A new study lends credence to their claims.

Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, charted the personality traits of 225 Spanish/English bilingual subjects in both the U.S. and Mexico as they responded to questions presented in each language. 

The five dimensions along which difference were noticed among bilinguals are: 
  1. Extraversion
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Neuroticism
  5. Openness. 

Ramírez-Esparza and her colleagues found that when using English in USA, the bilinguals were more extraverted, agreeable and conscientious than when using Spanish. The differences in neuroticism were not significant.

Previously researchers have shown before that bicultural individuals can assume different roles depending on environmental cues. But the new results indicate that character itself can morph.  
“To show that changes in personality—albeit modest ones—can be triggered by something as subtle as the language you’re speaking suggests that personality is more malleable than is widely expected,” Ramírez-Esparza explains.
When bilinguals answer questions in their native language the values and attitudes associated with that language condition their answers. When they respond to a questionnaire in their second language, norms and values associated with that language affect their responses.

Though switching tongues will not turn a bookworm into a party animal, but the variances are noticeable nonetheless.

The number of bilingual and bicultural people in the world is significant. 

Does having the ability to function in different personality modes give you skill and competence advantages as an employee or as a community member? 

Does it make you a better team member or a better boss?

Photo source:: Photographers:  taliesin and Keith Richardson